An­gelina Jolie:

An­gelina Jolie fell in love with Cam­bo­dia 17 years ago, adopt­ing son Mad­dox from an or­phan­age two years later. Now she is back di­rect­ing a movie about the coun­try’s painful past. The BBC’s Yalda Hakim went with her and, in a warm and emo­tional in­ter­view,

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

“My son changed my life”

An­gelina Jolie was back in her beloved Cam­bo­dia with her six chil­dren for the world pre­miere of the film she had di­rected, First They Killed My Fa­ther.

My team and I ar­rived at the re­sort she was stay­ing at in Siem Reap in north-western Cam­bo­dia. The place had been taken over by film crews, Net­flix staff – who funded the project – and the Cam­bo­dian ac­tors plus their fam­i­lies. As we set up, we were told, “Angie doesn’t want this to look very Hol­ly­wood and over-the-top with light­ing etcetera; she wants it to be very re­laxed and chilled out.”

My two cam­era­men be­gan wan­der­ing around look­ing for a suit­able lo­ca­tion that wasn’t the typ­i­cal TV in­ter­view with two chairs fac­ing each other, lit beau­ti­fully. Fi­nally Angie, as she is known to those close to her and how most Cam­bo­di­ans af­fec­tion­ately re­fer to her, stepped out to say hello. She re­ally is as strik­ing in re­al­ity as the movies and bill­boards we see her on. Bare­foot and wear­ing a floor-length ca­nary yel­low silk-chif­fon dress, her hair and make-up flaw­less.

“Hello, nice to meet you,” she said, giv­ing me a firm hand­shake. “I’ll be with you in a sec­ond, and ob­vi­ously I’m not go­ing to wear this for our in­ter­view,” she joked.

Then off she went to film an ad­vert to draw at­ten­tion to the plight of Syr­ian refugees. I quickly re­alised how com­plex her life must be. “In an­other life, she would have been a hu­man rights lawyer,” one of her aides told me. “She feels very strongly about her hu­man­i­tar­ian work.” Once she’d fin­ished her shoot, she dis­ap­peared again briefly, re­turn­ing wear­ing what has be­come her sig­na­ture look, a sim­ple black slip dress, which showed off her many tat­toos.

Angie is very much at home in Cam­bo­dia. Al­most two decades ago, she swung through the tem­ple ru­ins of Angkor Wat in Siem Riep as Lara Croft in the film Tomb Raider. It was then that she de­cided to adopt her son, Mad­dox Jolie-Pitt, now 15, from a Cam­bo­dian or­phan­age. When he sug­gested the time was right to start telling the story of his home coun­try’s tragic his­tory, the film got un­der­way. Now, sit­ting cross­legged on the floor op­po­site me, in an open-sided room in the mid­dle of the jun­gle, she talks about her new film, which has only Cam­bo­dian ac­tors, is in the Kh­mer lan­guage and is her trib­ute to this na­tion’s suf­fer­ing.

“Sev­en­teen years ago, I came to this coun­try and I fell in love with its peo­ple and learned its his­tory, and in do­ing so learned, in my early 20s, how lit­tle I ac­tu­ally knew about the world. This coun­try, for me, was my awak­en­ing. And my son changed my life. Be­com­ing a Cam­bo­dian fam­ily changed my life.”

The film she has di­rected is based on the book, with the same name, about the true story of the bru­tal­ity of the Com­mu­nist rebels, the Kh­mer Rouge. The group marched into the cap­i­tal, Phnom Penh, in April 1975.

Over the next four years, they drove its pop­u­la­tion out into the coun­try­side, tor­tur­ing, starv­ing and ex­e­cut­ing all those per­ceived as class en­e­mies and dump­ing them in mass graves. About two mil­lion peo­ple were killed out of a pop­u­la­tion of seven mil­lion.

“I hope this doesn’t bring up ha­tred; I hope this doesn’t bring up blame. I hope it brings out dis­cus­sion. And I hope the peo­ple of this coun­try are proud when they see it, be­cause they see what they sur­vived. And I think it sheds light on what it is to be Cam­bo­dian, and a lot of the beauty and love of the fam­ily,” An­gelina says when I ask her why she wanted to tell this story.

An­gelina is now known as much for her hu­man­i­tar­ian and po­lit­i­cal work as she is for be­ing one of the most fa­mous ac­tors in the world. She re­cently wrote an opinion piece in

The New York Times about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ban on im­mi­grants from six mainly Mus­lim coun­tries. In it, she wrote about hav­ing a truly in­ter­na­tional fam­ily and how a na­tion’s refugee pol­icy should be based on fact, not fear. She went on to say, “We shouldn’t be de­part­ing from our val­ues.”

“What did you mean by that,” I ask. She smiles, pauses, then in a mea­sured tone, re­sponds. “It’s funny, isn’t it? Some ques­tions seem so ob­vi­ous, don’t they? What are your val­ues? I value life, equally every sin­gle in­di­vid­ual hu­man life. I don’t sep­a­rate peo­ple by race, colour or re­li­gion. If I do, it’s be­cause I cel­e­brate di­ver­sity in the world. But I cer­tainly do not judge peo­ple, or hate or fear or think any­one de­serves more or less based on re­li­gion, colour of skin or where they’re from. I think that is very small-minded think­ing, very hor­ri­ble, ig­no­rant think­ing.”

Is she wor­ried about the Trump world view? “I think the Amer­i­can peo­ple are big­ger than any pres­i­dent. I sup­pose I have faith in my coun­try and in what it is founded on and the val­ues we hold dear. I be­lieve that many of the things that we’re hear­ing, that we feel, are based on a sense of spread­ing fear or hate or di­vid­ing peo­ple by race or judge­ment, [which] is un-Amer­i­can to me.”

Sep­a­rat­ing from Brad

When we first set out to do this in­ter­view, the agree­ment was to mainly dis­cuss her project in Cam­bo­dia but that it would also be wide-rang­ing, in­clud­ing her hu­man­i­tar­ian work, the up­heaval glob­ally with the rise of pop­ulism and, of course, her own per­sonal sit­u­a­tion. “She’s ap­pre­hen­sive about this in­ter­view,” her aides had said. I was sur­prised to hear this. An­gelina has been in the lime­light since she was a child. She is Hol­ly­wood roy­alty. Grew up in Bev­erly Hills. She fully un­der­stands what it means to be in the pub­lic eye and that in many ways her celebrity means her per­sonal life is also very much pub­lic prop­erty. She had spent more than a decade with one of the most de­sir­able men on the planet, Brad Pitt.

“Surely this is­sue is be­neath the BBC,” they said. “It is!” I ex­claimed. “But I have to ask the ques­tion.” Surely they re­alised I couldn’t not ask about the di­vorce and the in­fa­mous in­ci­dent on the plane which led to the sep­a­ra­tion of Brangelina. It had made global head­lines, and gos­sip mag­a­zines con­tinue to spec­u­late, writ­ing piece af­ter piece about the so-called in­sid­ers – who do not wish to be named – spilling the beans.

As much as she wants to keep the fo­cus on the plight of the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple, it has been dif­fi­cult to keep the spotlight off one of the most talked about break-ups in re­cent his­tory. Af­ter all, they were a brand. In a time when we are in­creas­ingly cyn­i­cal about celebrities, their re­la­tion­ships and the mean­ing of true love, Brangelina rep­re­sented some­thing mag­i­cal and truly ro­man­tic. Their ever-grow­ing brood from dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the planet in­trigued the pub­lic even more. Then her dou­ble mas­tec­tomy fol­lowed by the re­moval of her ovaries – Brad stand­ing by her side every step of the way. It seemed per­fect.

Now, in her first in­ter­view since the sep­a­ra­tion, she knows I am go­ing to ask about it. Twenty min­utes into our con­ver­sa­tion, we’ve dis­cussed so many other is­sues, she seems com­fort­able and I feel it is a good time to ask the ques­tion mil­lions are cu­ri­ous about. What ac­tu­ally hap­pened? I try to be as thought­ful as pos­si­ble, to some­how find a del­i­cate way to link it to her film, which ul­ti­mately is about fam­ily, loss and grief.

“This is a sen­si­tive is­sue. We know that an in­ci­dent oc­curred which led to your sep­a­ra­tion. We also know you

“We’ve all been through a dif­fi­cult time. My fo­cus is my chil­dren.”

haven’t said any­thing about this. But would you like to say some­thing?”

Even if she is a celebrity, as a woman, I imag­ine be­ing asked such a per­sonal ques­tion about the fa­ther of her chil­dren, would be very dif­fi­cult.

“I don’t want to say very much, ex­cept to say it was a very dif­fi­cult time and we are a fam­ily and we will al­ways be a fam­ily, and we will get through this time and hope­fully be a stronger fam­ily for it.”

“Can I ask how you’re cop­ing,” I pro­ceed. Hold­ing back tears, she an­swers: “Many, many peo­ple find them­selves in this sit­u­a­tion. My whole fam­ily, we’ve all been through a dif­fi­cult time. My fo­cus is my chil­dren, our chil­dren… my fo­cus is find­ing this way through and, as I said, we are… we are and for ever will be a fam­ily and so that is how I am cop­ing. I am cop­ing with find­ing a way through to make sure that this some­how makes us stronger and closer.”

Two months ear­lier, I had been told the in­ter­view with An­gelina had been se­cured. In that time, I made a con­scious ef­fort not to read any tabloids re­fer­ring to her di­vorce. I felt there was no point. Most of it was prob­a­bly not true, I thought. Sit­ting with her now, I re­alise what an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son she truly is. She has rein­vented her­self be­fore our very eyes for decades. I don’t feel the need to push any fur­ther and ask for de­tails. She is right: peo­ple go through these sorts of sep­a­ra­tions every day. Hers has just been very pub­lic.

Fam­ily life

What I see now, though, is a strong woman, a mother, a hu­man­i­tar­ian and some­one want­ing to again re­de­fine who she is. I am cu­ri­ous to learn more about her life now and where she sees her­self in the fu­ture. I ask her where she thinks she will be in five years.

An­gelina takes a deep breath, “Will I have all teenagers?” We both laugh. “Yes, you’ll have all teenagers!”

“In five years time,” she says, “I would like to be trav­el­ling around the world vis­it­ing my chil­dren, hop­ing that they’re just happy and do­ing re­ally in­ter­est­ing things, and I imag­ine in many dif­fer­ent parts of the world, and I’ll be sup­port­ing them.

“There’s a time in your life, es­pe­cially as a mother, that it’s re­ally not your life any more. It is never your life the mo­ment you have a child, it be­comes them and it’s a beau­ti­ful feel­ing.”

So what’s the first thing that An­gelina thinks about when she wakes up in the morn­ing?

“I’m go­ing through a mo­ment when just ev­ery­body’s in my room. Two dogs, two ham­sters and two chil­dren. Usu­ally, I just wake up try­ing to fig­ure out who’s go­ing to get the dog out, who’s go­ing to start the pan­cakes and did any­one brush their teeth.”

“Last ques­tion,” one of her aides yells out. An­gelina looks at me and says, “It re­ally has felt like I’ve been speak­ing to a girl­friend rather than with a jour­nal­ist in an in­ter­view.” A nice way to end it.

The cam­eras are off and sud­denly we are sur­rounded by her chil­dren. They’re ea­ger to start cook­ing the bugs she has pre­pared for them. The first time she ate bugs was when she was film­ing Tomb Raider. It’s part of Cam­bo­dian cul­ture and she and her chil­dren have em­braced it. We walk over to the cook­ing sta­tion. Spi­ders, crick­ets and scor­pi­ons laid out for us with some veg­eta­bles and cook­ing oil. Twins Vivi­enne and Knox, eight, help us peel the crick­ets, and some of the Cam­bo­dian child ac­tors join us. An­gelina is in her el­e­ment, her hair now in a pony­tail, an apron wrapped around her waist. Shiloh, 10, tells me her mother isn’t the best chef in the world and she likes to do most of the cook­ing at home.

“Come on, sous-chef, try one of the spi­ders,” says An­gelina, point­ing the eight-legged crea­ture in my face. As I put one of the fangs in my mouth, I look at her and say, “Nice, I can see why you’re into this.”

She then re­alises she’s for­got­ten some­thing. “We’re spend­ing the next cou­ple of days to­gether; I for­got to men­tion my up­com­ing project in Afghanistan, it would be re­ally good to dis­cuss it.”

“Sure,” I re­spond.

“Oh, and I re­ally want to dis­cuss Syr­ian chil­dren,” she adds, “so let’s do that, too!”

Yalda Hakim in­ter­viewed An­gelina sit­ting cross-legged in the jun­gle.

FROM TOP LEFT: “Come on, try one of the spi­ders,” says An­gelina. With son Mad­dox. Show­ing her cook­ing skills.

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